Displaying the same kind of confidence reserved usually for James Cameron’s ever expanding plans for his Avatar sequels, Daiei films back in 1966 released a trilogy of Kaiju/samurai movies known as the Daimajin Trilogy. In case I was being too subtle there, what I was trying to get at was that all three movies were released within the same year which sort of puts Marvel’s release schedule into sharp relief…
Anyway, the second of this series of three unrelated stories all linked with the appearance of the titular towering stone protector went to prove that even though the directors were different, the plots were very, very similar and all featured a benevolent, peaceful city getting overrun by crueler one in a bloody coup with the scowling titan arriving at the end to score a deciding victory in favour of the beleaguered good guys. But does familiarity breed contempt in a genre famous for a distinct lack of variety as it’s gargantuan star wreaks destruction like he’s getting paid by the building?
Much like the previous movie, we open in Japan in the 18th century and focus on the beef of the evil lord Danjo of the mountain based Mikoshiba clan whose own personal Kaiju is the green-eyed monster that has him envious of the Chigusa and Nagoshi clans. These two peaceful towns have an unlimited water supply thanks to their location to a massive lake and on an island in it’s center lies a familiar sacred statue of the demon god Daimajin who is said will protect them in their hour of need.
Well, that hour may be rapidly approaching as Danjo decides that the most dickish move he can possibly make is to take over both places during an annual festival when everybody’s guard is down and pulls a classic trojan horse move by smuggling in three of his men disguised as goodwill deliveries of rice.
After a great amount of screaming and swinging of swords, Danjo’s men are successful but Lord Juro, the head of the Chigusa manages to escape along with others from both villages and all eventually end up on Daimajin’s island looking for shelter. Unfortunately, Lord Danjo is the sort of type who dots his I’s and lines his T’s and he sends men to the island to destroy the statue with enough dynamite to blow a randy Godzilla and the fractured pieces end up at the bottom of the lake much to the dismay of the devout Lady Sayuri.
Before long Danjo’s men has managed to capture everyone left to oppose him and has decreed that Lady Sayuri be burned at the stake (with a side order of crucifixion to boot), but something is stirring at the bottom of the lake as a reformed Daimajin rises with all the pomp and circumstance of a Wrestlemania entrance and desides it’s high time to lay some good old fashioned stone gaint justice on Lord Danjo.
So, to start off it’s probably prudent to address the 25 foot, stone, Kaiju elephant in the room and that’s despite the fact Return Of Daimajin has a different director (Kenji Misumi tagging in from Kimiyoshi Yasuda), the plot is virtually identical to the first one. Take one power hungry lord, have him enforce his will on a peaceful village, make the survivors fight valiantly, fail and then have a giant rubber monster bail them out in the last twenty minutes, it’s pretty cut and dry; but to penalize a Showa era Kaiju movie for being a little derivative is kind of missing the point – after all, Gozilla’s barely deviated from the same basic storyline for over 30 movies so I’m gonna crap on Daimajin for only 3?
However, with all that being said, some similarities are a little difficult to ignore; both weirdly feature heroes awaiting execution while being tied to crucifixs and both include scenes where the evil lord’s men try to dismantle the religious icon, which leads me to wonder: are these movies, with all their noticable christian iconography an attempt to try and be the Japanese versions of the big budget biblical epics Hollywood was betting the farm on at the time? It’s definately a thought and it makes you wonder what a pyramid-sized Cleopatra would look like stomping through Egypt, hunting for Marc Anthony like a gender reversed King Kong…
Even though the similarities are obvious, the main deviations still manage to stand out chiefly the location, which takes place primarily on and around the lake where our slumbering statue has made itself at home and allows for more blues to enter the already lush colour palette. In fact, the visuals are still on point and Daimajin trilogy still manages to be quite unlike any other Kaiju series that exists thanks to it’s samurai based shenanigans still blending suprisingly well with it’s monster stuff. The story is still engrossing and it’s still a genuine thrill when Daimajin returns from apparent destruction, rising from the lake and separating it Moses style to show his enemies he’s really not in the mood to fuck about. It’s a fabulously showy entrance that kind of makes the demon God as wildly flamboyant as a giant Liberace, but when he gets down to business while stomping around, glaring at everyone with the steely glare of a 25 meter tall Charles Bronson, but still manages to hit the dramatic high notes with images that look torn right out of a renaissance painting. Watch as a second attempt to wipe out the Japanese Golem with explosives leaves the overconfident bad guys cheering at a large cloud of dust, but when it starts to clear we get the awesome, bowel-emptying image of the monster silhouetted against the sky as he was only dramatically pausing – the big old drama queen.
Still wielding the power of truth, justice and the ability to terrify an evil lord so bad he accidentally hangs himself from the rigging of his getaway boat as it both burns and sinks (surely a big, fat Yahtzee for a villain’s cinematic comeuppance), our towering anti-hero may not have a wealth of new ideas at his command, but he still has style to spare which is something that with take you far in the world of vengeful creature features.